Of course we could/should have scored four or five. Should have killed the game both before their goal and after our winner. Didn’t have our shooting shoes on. Missed a couple of key passes. Didn’t make that last play for a deserved goal. So what? It is three points and we needed them. Villa are a good club—they have figured out how to play without Jack Grealish and I suspect they could easily finish in the upper half of the table again this year.
The lineup was right—the effort was there. No one had a bad game, for once, though several will rue some of their decisions. After a somewhat sluggish start we grew into the game. Their press was intense and there were times we handled it better than others. But the defending was superb for nearly the entire game, and our counter attacks became more and more threatening.
I will start in the back. Hugo was very solid. His save on Ings in the second half was what we expect. He was leading—I can remember one time he yelled out his pleasure at one of his teammates making a good play in the box—might have been Skipp or Dier. His long ball to Kane should have led to a goal.
Reguilon did nothing spectacular but everything pretty well. Dier had one of his better games but for the goal when he was not quick enough to mark Ollie Watkins. Romero’s gamble was more at fault on that situation, but overall I thought the Argentine had his best game for us. He is resolute and tough—the battles with Mings on their corners were great to watch. And Emerson might have been my MOTM—I felt for the first time in a long while that we actually have a right back. He does nearly everything well and on a different day he might have scored on that break near the end.
The midfield three weren’t perfect—but they were the right combination. Skipp had his best game, covering, defending, turning the ball upfield. His overhead kick to get us out of trouble was terrific. Hojbjerg was solid throughout and deserved the goal. Ndombele was active and attempted to make a bunch of plays, even if his passing wasn’t always pristine.
I thought Lucas was spotty for much of the first half but he got better and it is too bad his run for the winner wasn’t rewarded with a goal credited to him. Son was a bit of everything—his running puts so much pressure on the opposition—I just wish his shooting had been better and I thought he dithered a few times in the second half when a more direct decision—running or passing—was called for. But he was our biggest threat throughout.
Kane continues to struggle as he could easily have scored a couple in the second half but maybe the goals will come soon. His effort was solid throughout. The two subs were spot-on in terms of both identity and timing. This group plus Bergwijn are our best fourteen—we can hope they can stay healthy for a couple of months and perhaps this team will begin to make some waves. For all the problems, we are only two points out of the top four.
In terms of Nuno, there can be no criticism of what he did today. Villa made difficult at both ends at times in this game—but the defence was set up well and we gradually figured out how to get out of trouble and create a counterattack. I’m not sure just what we have this season—but today tells us it might still be something pretty good. We’ll take the baby steps.
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